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Disturbing evidence reveals UK special forces’ war crimes in Afghanistan: Report

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BBC Panorama has released disturbing evidence of war crimes reportedly committed by a squadron of Britain’s special forces in Afghanistan, revealing a suspicious pattern of unlawful killings during night raids.

Newly obtained military reports seen by the BBC suggested that one SAS unit, which was in Afghanistan between 2010 and 2011, killed around 54 people during a six-month tour of the country and that former UK special forces head General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith failed to pass on evidence to a murder inquiry.

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The special forces head – who eventually became the UK Army head, a position which he stepped down from last month – was briefed about the alleged unlawful killings but failed to pass the evidence on to the Royal Military Police. He declined to comment on the matter when the BBC reached out to him.

According to a statement by the BBC’s Hannah O’Grady, the story took four years of detective work and involved a cache of internal emails from within the headquarters of the UK Special Forces – the military directorate that oversees the SAS.

The emails revealed that several high-ranking SAS officers “were aware there was concern over possible unlawful killings, but failed to report the suspicions to the military police despite a legal obligation to do so.”

The newly obtained report detailed the SAS night raids. The BBC found a patten of very similar reports recorded during this time in which the squadron in question stated that Afghan men had pulled out weapons from behind furniture after being detained, an excuse reportedly used to justify their killings.

The reports analyzed and scrutinized by the BBC included:

  • In November 2010, the SAS squadron killed a man who had been detained and taken back inside a building where he allegedly “attempted to engage the force with a grenade.”
  • In January 2011, they killed a man who had been detained and taken back inside a building, where he supposedly “reached behind a mattress and pulled out a hand grenade, and attempted to throw it.”
  • On 7 February 2011, the squadron killed a detainee who “attempted to engage the patrol with a rifle.” The same justification was given to two more fatal shooting events on February 9 and 13 that month.
  • On 16 February, two detainees were killed for pulling a grenade “from behind the curtains” and the other “picked up an AK-47 from behind a table.”
  • In April that year, they killed two detainees who had been sent back inside a building after one of them “raised an AK-47” and the other attempted to “throw a grenade.”
  • No injuries to SAS operatives were reported during any of these raids.

BBC Panorama analyzed SAS operational accounts, which included reports covering more than 12 “kill or capture” raids carried out by one SAS squadron in Helmand between 2010 and 2011.

Unarmed people were killed during night raids and AK-47s (gas-operated assault rifles) were planted at a scene to justify the killing of an unarmed person, individuals familiar with the matter who served with the SAS squadron during that deployment reportedly said.

SAS squadrons also competed with each other to get the most kills and that the squadron in question tried to achieve a higher number of kills than the one it had replaced at the time, they added.

A source, who used to work as a senior officer at the SAS headquarters voiced “real concern” over the squadron’s reports.

“Too many people were being killed on night raids and the explanations didn’t make sense,” he said.

“Once somebody is detained, they shouldn’t end up dead. For it to happen over and over again was causing alarm at HQ. It was clear at the time that something was wrong.”

Internal emails seen by the BBC from the time showed that officers reacted to the reports with disbelief, describing them as “quite incredible” and referred to them as the SAS squadron’s “latest massacre.”

In an email to a colleague, an operations officer said that “for what must be the 10th time in the last two weeks” the squadron sent a detainee back into a building “and he reappeared with an AK,” according to the BBC.

“Then when they walked back in to a different A [building] with another B [fighting-age male] to open the curtains he grabbed a grenade from behind a curtain and threw it at the c/s [SAS assault team]. Fortunately, it didn’t go off…. this is the 8th time this has happened... You couldn't MAKE IT UP!”

One of the highest-ranking special forces officers in the country had warned the Director of the special forces on April 7 that there could be a “deliberate policy” of unlawful killing in operation.

A special forces officer was then deployed to interview personnel from the squadron in question and took their version of events at face value, the BBC said, adding that court documents showed the final report signed off by the commanding officer of the unit.

Britain’s defense ministry released a series of tweets on Monday about the BBC Panorama episodes on the SAS killings, saying that it “jumps to unjustified conclusions from allegations that have already been investigated.”

“We have provided a detailed and comprehensive statement to Panorama, highlighting unequivocally how two Service Police operations carried out extensive and independent investigation into allegations about the conduct of UK forces in Afghanistan,“ the ministry said.

The ministry’s press office added that “neither investigation found sufficient evidence to prosecute,” stating that “insinuating otherwise is irresponsible, incorrect and put our brave Armed Forces personnel at risk both in the field and reputationally.”

“The Ministry of Defense of course stands open to considering any new evidence, there would be no obstruction. We will always investigate allegations to the full, but our independent police and prosecutors can only act on the evidence before them.”

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